Demolition of the Cincinnati Gardens expected to start by end of the year

CINCINNATI -- Demolition of the Cincinnati Gardens is still planned to start by the end of this year.

There is a signed agreement between the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority and O’Rourke Wrecking Company for demolition of the 68-year-old arena at 2250 Seymour Ave. in Bond Hill.

The next step is for the city of Cincinnati to sign off on the plan, according to Gail Paul, the director of communication strategy for the Greater Cincinnati Redevelopment Authority (formerly the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority).

Additional details may be known after the Nov. 8 GCRA Board meeting.

The port purchased the Gardens property in July 2016. The plan is for the 19-acre site to be re-purposed into parcels attractive for advanced manufacturing.

WCPO.com previously reported the site has a potential economic impact worth 300 jobs and a new $20.5 million capital investment, according to the port.

The GCRA is also working with the family of Henry Mott regarding the relocation of the six unique bas-relief sporting figures on the outside of the Gardens building. Those figures have stood at the main entrance since the building opened in 1949.

There are two figures each of a boxer, basketball player and hockey player cut in a three-dimensional pattern, each standing about 10 feet high, flanking the entrance.

The Mott family is planning for the relocation of the sculptures at a site to be determined. An update on the figures is expected in the next three to four weeks, according to Paul.

The sculptures were the result of a design competition held in 1948 by the Art Academy of Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Gardens’ architect/engineering firm A.M. Kinney of Cincinnati, according to Gardens historian John Perin.

O’Rourke, which received a signed agreement from the GCRA early Thursday afternoon, is also expected to remove the main Gardens exterior letters from the building. The letters will be donated to the American Sign Museum in Camp Washington. 

The exterior letters have likely adorned the building since sometime in the 1960s, according to former Gardens spokesperson Greg Waddell.

The letters look like what appeared on the building above a marquee “Beatles Tonite Sold Out” during the Beatles concert Aug. 27, 1964.

The building management officially changed the building from "Cincinnati Garden" to "Cincinnati Gardens" in the early months of 1961, according to Perin.

Since at least the early 1980s, the Gardens staff would power wash the letters every year using a ladder, hose and a high-powered compressor.

Tod Swormstedt, the president and founder of the sign museum, previously told WCPO.com he has a plan to display the letters at his Camp Washington site.

Earlier this year, the port sold 1,035 of the estimated 10,000 arena seats during a public sale from mid-December 2016 to early January 2017. The unsold seats from last winter were in the building as of mid-September, according to Paul.

O’Rourke, which started in 1962, has been involved in several other projects over the years in the region and elsewhere. O’Rourke was the demolition contractor for Cinergy Field (formerly Riverfront Stadium) in 2002.

O’Rourke has experience with multiple other sporting venues over the years including renovations of University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, University of Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium and Kauffman Stadium, which is home to the Kansas City Royals.

The Gardens was the seventh-largest arena in the country at the time of its opening Feb. 22, 1949 when the Montreal Canadiens played an exhibition hockey game in front of 11,500 fans.

The arena hosted countless sporting events and concerts along with comedians, symphony orchestras, Broadway-style musicals, political rallies, roller derby, circuses, dog shows, dirt track auto racing and faith events.

In addition to the Beatles, the Jackson Five, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley performed there. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rev. Billy Graham spoke there.

Fats Domino, who died Oct. 25, and Chuck Berry, who died in March, played there in 1957.

The largest recorded crowd in Gardens history occurred Oct. 25, 1960 as 19,000 attended a Richard Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge campaign rally.

The NBA’s Cincinnati Royals played there from 1957 to 1972. The franchise moved after the '71-72 season and became the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in 1972-73. The team was known as the Kansas City Kings from 1975-85 and later became the current Sacramento Kings.

The Gardens hosted the 1966 NBA All-Star Game, which included Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, among others. Legendary coach Red Auerbach coached the East squad.

The Gardens also hosted UC basketball games featuring the 'Big O' prior to his arrival with the Royals, and Middletown High School basketball games featuring Lucas prior to his arrival with Cincinnati's NBA team.

The Ohio high school state basketball finals were played there in 1953 and '55. More recently, high school hockey games were played at the Gardens.

Xavier University used the Gardens as its home court starting with the 1983-84 season. The final Xavier game at the Gardens was an NIT first round game against Marquette on March 15, 2000.

The Gardens also hosted pro hockey teams going back to 1949 including those in the American Hockey League, International Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League and Central Professional Hockey League.

The teams that most recently played at the Gardens included the the Cincinnati Swords (AHL, 1971-1974), Cincinnati Cyclones (ECHL, 1990-92 and IHL, 1992-97) and Cincinnati Mighty Ducks (AHL, 1997-2005).

The facility most recently served as home to Cincinnati Rollergirls, the city's first amateur, all-female, flat track roller derby team.

The Rollergirls had the final event in the history of the arena June 11, 2016. The arena officially closed Aug. 17, 2016.

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